It’s Black History Month and a great way to celebrate it is by reading books by black authors. Whether you decide to read novels from the past, or books recently published, there is a plethora of African American literature that you can enjoy. To celebrate black women, we’ve compiled a list of books to read that were published by black female authors. Many of the books named are classics in African American literature and have received plenty of praise. So, update your bookshelf and add some of these books to your reading list.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969 and brought her great success and international praise. The book, which is the first of her autobiographical series, details her life as a child and teenager in the 1930s and 1940s. Starting with her childhood growing up in Arkansas through her years as a young adult in California, Angelou shares a detailed depiction of her evolution into womanhood. The tone of the book reflects the complexities of growing up in the South as a black girl through themes of abandonment, racism, rape, and identity. The reader follows Angelou as she uses books and literature to retreat from the trauma she endures, and transitions into a poetic and talented young woman.
Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston’s most notable work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was a fiction novel published in 1937 and is often noted for its black feminist viewpoint. Set in southern Florida in the early 1900s, the book details the life of Janie Crawford. Janie is an African American woman in her early forties, that is recounting her life story through a lengthy flashback. The reader is taken on a journey through the character’s three marriages as she expresses her perspective on race, gender roles, the liberation and value of women, and the search of one’s voice. Despite not having much initial success, Their Eyes Were Watching God eventually became an essential part of African American literature.
Song of Solomon
Song of Solomon, a fiction novel, was Toni Morrison’s third novel and was published in 1977. The setting takes place in Michigan, in the early 1900s, and chronicles the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III. Milkman, born into a wealthy family, struggles with true independence and alienates himself from the African American community due to the harsh realities of racism it faces. Starting from birth through adulthood, the author shows the progression of Milkman from a selfish child to a more sympathetic adult, as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery through his ancestral roots. Song of Solomon is critically acclaimed, and Morrison received a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 for this literary work.
The Women of Brewster Place
Gloria Naylor’s debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, was a fiction novel published in 1982. The story follows the lives of seven African American women that reside in Brewster Place, a housing development in an unknown city in the North. The conditions surrounding the development are dismal and depressing, yet it reflects the circumstances to which many African Americans were subjected during that time. The novel is told in seven short stories that deliver an account of living in Brewster Place through the perspective of the woman in which the chapter is named. Through the powerful connection of the women, the reader explores friendships, romance, and hopefulness of a better life from different African American women.
Meridian, a semi-autobiographical novel, was Alice Walker’s second novel published in 1976. Set in the 1960s and 1970s, the story follows Meridian Hill, a college student that becomes active in the Civil Rights Movement. The reader explores her journey as a civil rights activist when the movement transitions into a more militant revolution. Walker uses her own personal accounts as an activist in the 1970s to give Meridian its portrayal of the extremist shifts taken place within the movement. The novel is also often noted for its womanist views and the portrayal of strong female characters.